Updated: Mar 9, 2022
When we're working hard consistently several days a week, for weeks on end, our bodies can quickly become tired and in need of a break.
We can't always be pushing the limits. It's simply not a very sustainable way to train and make long term progress.
Instead, we should look to be taking deloads every so often. You'll see many professional bodybuilders, powerlifters and athletes taking deloads every so often. And for good reason too. They're extremely effective at giving our body a break.
Deloads are necessary to ensure that our bodies get the recovery they so desperately need, and to ensure that we can sustain our progress long term.
However, while deloads are such an effective way to ensure that we can keep making gains for the long term, most people don't actually know what they are, why they're important to take, let alone how to take them.
That's why in this post, we'll be giving you the ultimate guide to deloading and helping you find the answers to all your questions surrounding this training technique.
The 7 Steps to Knowing All About Deloads
What is a Deload?
A deload is a period of time where you reduce your training volume or intensity in order to give yourself a break, and let your body recover from all of the hard work that you've been doing. Deloads usually last a week, although it is up to you how long you deload for.
For example, if your weekly training volume looked like 70 hard working sets a week, and you were lifting pretty heavy quite often, taking a deload would mean slashing the weekly volume in half, or at least to some significant degree. You could limit your volume to somewhere around 35 working sets and allow your body to get a rest.
Alternatively, you could reduce the weight that you're using to somewhere around 40-60% of your usual weight. This would reduce the intensity of your workouts and prevent you from getting too tired and beat up after your workouts.
A deload is usually scheduled around your hard training blocks, so that you can get a break after several weeks of hard work and be fresh, ready to start training hard again after the rest week.
For example, powerlifters will often schedule their deloads carefully around their training blocks and powerlifting meets, to ensure that they're not feeling too beat up heading into competition.
While it may seem like common sense to simply take a week off out of the gym, taking a deload is actually the better option if you plan to continue to make progress after the rest week.
Taking a deload keeps the body moving. This is going to help you maintain your muscle mass and strength as much as possible. You likely won't lose too much over the course of a single week, but keeping the body moving (and still lifting somewhat heavy) is going to help you produce the best results for yourself.
However, if you find that you're on a really tight schedule one week, you're traveling, sick or injured, then it's fine to simply take the week off as well. It shouldn't cause you too much harm.
Why Should We Take Deloads?
Like we mentioned above, deloads are important to take as training hard and consistently for weeks on end can cause both mental and physical fatigue, and leave us feeling unmotivated and lackluster in the gym. Training hard can affect the quality of our workouts, as well as the effectiveness of them and slow our progress.
To combat this, taking a deload is one of the best ways to ensure that we can maintain our progress long term. It helps reduce our chances of injury and helps keep us feeling fresh and strong in the gym, ready to crush our workouts.
When we continually place large amounts of stress on our body, certain parts such as tendons and bones will suffer microtrauma and some damage.
Over time, if we do not give our body the recovery that it needs, this can lead to overtraining and overuse injury, which can push us out of the gym for several weeks.
Taking a deload will also allow us to get a bit of a break and regain some of our strength, which is something that taking single rest days cannot provide us.
You'll see many advanced lifters hitting high numbers in their lifts at the beginning of a training block, and then gradually losing their strength as they reach the end of a training block.
This is due to the mental and physical fatigue that comes with hard, consistent work, so taking a deload will allow them to get their strength back and continue to push hard for another several weeks. This will have us feeling fresher, feeling stronger and being able to build more muscle for the long term. Deloads increase the productivity of our workouts.
Not taking a deload for several weeks or even months on end is going to cause you eventually feel so fatigued that you're only able to keep doing the same workouts over and over again at the same intensity. or even worse, at a lesser intensity. This will lead to plateaus and halted progress or injury, none of which are things that anybody wants to deal with.
How Often Should I Be Deloading?
Unfortunately, there's no definitive answer that we can give you in this guide, as it all depends on your training experience and personal experience with fatigue in the past. Some people can naturally tolerate more work with their bodies than others. You'll have to play around with it and figure this out for yourself.
However, we can give you some rough guidelines as to how often you should be deloading, depending on your fitness level and your experience.
Most people will want to take a deload every 6-12 weeks of hard training.
However if you're a beginner, you can go several months (around 6) without a deload as you're likely not yet lifting that heavy.
Intermediate lifters will likely want to take a deload every 8-12 weeks.
For more advanced lifters that have trained for more than 4 years, you'll want to take a deload closer to every 6 weeks.
Basically, the more advanced you are, the more often you will need to take deloads to accommodate for your heavy weights that you're lifting and increased fatigue.
If you're lifting in a caloric deficit, you will want to take deloads more often than usual, as you're already putting yourself in a deficit of energy.
If this is your first time deloading, or you're a beginner to weightlifting in the gym, we recommend finding a suitable time for you to take a deload, and sticking to it whether or not you feel you actually need it.
This will reduce your chances of suffering injuries or overtraining and setting your progress back.
However, if you're more advanced, and you know your body well, then you can plan your deloads whenever you feel that you need one.
If you've been training consistently for several years, it's pretty likely that you've come to know your body and actually know when you need a break.
Don't worry, if you're a little unsure, we're getting into that in the next section.
Determining Whether or Not You Need a Deload
There are some simple signs that we can look for when deciding on whether or not we need to take a deload period. Like we said, if you're new to deloading or training, we recommend planning a deload and sticking to it regardless of whether or not you feel that you need one. It's better to be safe than sorry.
However, if you're more advanced, and are looking to be more flexible with your deload periods, then this section is for you.
Your Training Plan Calls for a Deload
This should go without saying. If your training program calls for a deload, and it was designed with your goals and you in mind, then it makes sense to simply follow the plan and take a deload.
This is going to allow you to continue to train hard in your following blocks, and continue to push for progress more efficiently.
You Have Some Sort of a Competition Ahead
If you've got some sort of competitive event coming up, whether that's a powerlifting meet, a sports game or something else, and you absolutely need to be performing at your best, it makes sense to take a deload week if you've been training hard leading up to this.
You certainly don't want to head into the competition feeling sluggish and unmotivated. Take the deload week. You can't be sure what will happen if you don't, but you don't want to risk finding out either.
You've Hit a Plateau
If you find that your progress is stalling, and you're no longer progressing as quickly as you used to in terms of your strength and performance, then this may be an indication that it's time for you to take a deload.
Bear in mind, if you're training hard enough, this can cause your progress to stall as well.
However if you've been training hard for several weeks, and you're positive that progress has stalled, then this is a sign that it's time for a deload period.
Your Body is Always Achy or Sore
Next up, if you're always feeling sore heading into the gym, and it starts to affect your everyday life, then this may be an indication that it's time for you to take a deload.
Like we said earlier, your body needs a chance to recover from all your hard work. If you can't provide this, you won't be able to train as efficiently and risk injury as well.
Workouts are Starting to Feel Harder
This will go hand in hand with the previous sign, but if you're finding that your workouts are starting to feel tougher to complete, even though you're lifting the same amount of weight, then this is a sign that it's time for a deload.
Sometimes, matching our performance in a previous session can feel impossible. We can think to ourselves: how on earth did I lift that much weight?
We all have off days. It happens. However, if you're constantly asking yourself this, and you feel that your workouts are getting tougher and tougher, then this is a sign that it's time for a deload period.
Motivation is Low
If you're feeling unmotivated to go into the gym everyday, or you feel that you'd rather be doing anything else, then this is a pretty good sign that you need to take a deload.
This goes hand in hand with some of the other points on this list, and it's extremely important that you take notes of this. If you don't, you'll risk hitting plateaus and halted progress.
You're Always Feeling Stressed and Can't Sleep
The last sign that we have for you is to take a look at how you're feeling in your everyday life, outside of the gym. If you're constantly feeling stressed, or you feel that you have too much to do and can't sleep at night, then this is a sign that you need to take a deload.
Perhaps you've been working too hard for too long, and the mental and physical fatigue has finally caught up to you. In this case, it's a good idea to take a deload period.
How to Take a Deload
Right! Now we'll be showing you how to take your deload if you haven't done so before. It's not as complicated as you might think.
The first step to taking your deload is to reduce your volume. To do this, you can simply choose to work out in the gym less often, or do less volume in each session to achieve somewhere around half of your total volume throughout the week.
For example, if your usual working volume is 80 working sets per week spread across 5 training days (average of 16 sets per session), you could simply perform 8 sets per session and reach approximately half of your usual volume.
Or, you could keep your number of sets per session the same, but only head into the gym 3 days throughout the week, and achieve a total of 48 working sets throughout the week. This is another great way to reduce your volume, especially if you run on a tight schedule.
Next up, you need to find a way to reduce your workout intensity. For most people, this is going to simply mean reducing the weight that you're lifting to somewhere around 40-60% of your usual working weight.
For example, if you usually do 3 sets of 5 reps on the bench press with 60kg or 135lb, you can do 3 sets of 5 reps with 30kg or 67.5lb instead. This may hurt your ego a little, and it might be a little embarrassing, but it's going to be great for preserving your gains long term.
Keep Rest Periods the Same (Or Even Longer)
Next up, you should look to keep your rest periods the same, or even longer if you want. This isn't going to have any negative impact on your training, but will just ensure that you don't feel beat up at all after your workout.
You want your body to rest as much as possible during this deload period, whilst preserving as much as possible.
You Can Keep Doing Cardio
During your deload, you can continue to do your cardio if you enjoy it and you want to. Or, you could take that off too. It's completely up to you.
However, if you do HIIT cardio workouts quite often often feel exhausted after them, you should look to switch to doing lower intensity cardio, such as long distance walks and steady state instead. This type of cardio has a lesser impact on the muscles and joints, and is better for a recovery week like a deload than HIIT is.
Basically, you can keep doing cardio, but keep it light and low impact.
Keep Getting Lots of Recovery Time
Just because you're not working as hard doesn't mean that you don't need to be taking your recovery seriously.
Keep eating your high protein diet. Keep getting at least 7 hours of sleep each night. Keep up any mobility routines you do.
Remember, the purpose of a deload is to have you feeling as fresh as possible going into a new training block or event. You still need to take everything else just as seriously.
Even if you're not working so hard, a lack of sleep is going to cause you to feel fatigued, unmotivated and unpleasant during your workouts.
What About Food?
When it comes to your food during a deload, you should generally look to keep it the same.
Keep your daily calories the same, keep eating at your previous daily protein intake and keep taking the supplements that you used to take, such as creatine if you usually have it.
This is going to ensure that you feel as energized as possible during your deload, and keep your body functioning as best as possible, especially once you get started with your new training block.
Ensuring that you continue to eat as you normally do will help you maintain everything, and have you come out of the deload in the most optimal state for more progress and gains.
Will You Lose Your Gains?
You can rest assured knowing that you most likely aren't going to lose your gains. Studies have shown that muscle and strength loss will not happen until you take at least 2-3 weeks completely off from your regular exercise.
And, remember that you're not even taking the time completely off. During a deload, you're still lifting pretty heavy. This is going to help by keeping you moving, and help to preserve as much of your muscle mass and strength as possible.
As long as you do it right, you won't risk losing your gains taking a deload.
Wrapping It Up
Overall, a deload doesn't have to be as complicated as you may think. If you follow these 7 steps, you will hopefully have learnt everything that you need to know about deloading, and are prepared to take your next deload correctly, whenever that may be scheduled for!
We hope you've learnt something from this post and have found it helpful to you and your training. If you did, remember to share it with your friends so that we can reach more people! We're trying to help as many as possible reach their fitness goals!
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